As a proud rescue mom of three dogs and a cat, I am super excited that you are thinking about pet adoption. I can tell you that it was the best four decisions I have ever made. I’m going to explain the MANY benefits of adopting a pet as well as why adopting is so much better than buying a pet from a pet store.
Benefits of Adopting A Pet Compared to Buying One From A Pet Store
Let’s start off with an obvious reason, it’s inexpensive.
The adoption fee at shelters and rescues typically range from free to a couple hundred dollars and the money that is made helps cover the costs of continuing to rescue. I called a local Petland here in Las Vegas to inquire about their prices. I was told the prices range from $3,500 to $5,500. I also asked the specific prices of a female Siberian Husky and a male Standard Poodle that were being advertised online. The prices are $4,675 and $4,350 respectively. The representative did mention that for that price, vaccines, spay or neutering and microchipping are all included in the price. That “all inclusive” package deal may seem like a good deal for those who have never rescued before, but let’s look at the final cost of rescuing a puppy from the rescue, North Shore Animal League. I chose this specific rescue, which happens to be the largest non-kill animal rescue in North America because I used to work and volunteer there so I am familiar with their adoption process and fees. Their adoption fees are as follows:
- Puppies (up to 6 months) – $350
- Adults (over 6 months) – $100
- Puppy Mill rescues – $250
- Small breed and pure breeds – $250
- Kittens (up to 6 months) – $100
- Double kittens – $150
- Adults (over 6 months) – $50
- Double adults – $75
At Heaven Can Wait Spay & Neuter Clinic, a low cost neuter and spay clinic, the price of a dog spay and neuter ranges from $90-$115 and $65-$115 respectively. A cat spay and neuter costs $75 and $50 respectively. The average cost to microchip a pet is $45 and the cost of vaccines if not already up to date, which most rescue animals are between $20 and $80. Therefore, adopting a puppy and getting them fixed, microchipped and vaccinated would cost no more than $400. With this being said, most rescue pets are already fixed and up to date on vaccines. Therefore, adopting a 1 year old dog would cost around $50. That’s $4,000 less than buying a puppy from Petland. Also, there are additional costs to be considered before bringing home a pet, which include: a crate, food, food bowls, bed, leash, collar/harness, pee pads, etc. Therefore, rescuing a pet is much more cost effective and the money saved from rescuing opposed to adopting can go toward paying for veterinary examinations and other pet-related costs that will arise.
Another reason, the one that I personally feel strongest about as to why adopting is a better option than buying is because almost all animals sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. Puppy mills are horrific and there are no words that will describe how awful they are, which is why I have included pictures (viewer discretion, sensitive content). However, I will explain what puppy mills are. The Humane Society of United States describes puppy mills as “commercial facilities that mass-produce puppies for sale.” The sole purpose of puppy mills is to breed as many puppies as possible to make high profits with complete disregard for the health and wellbeing of the animals. Puppy mill dogs live in horrific conditions. These dogs spend their whole lives in stacked wire-bottom crates. Puppy mill dogs do not receive walks, playtime, environmental enrichment, basic grooming or veterinary care.
Puppy mills are legal if licensed and regulated by the Animal Welfare Act and the U.S. Department of Agriculture which does little to ensure responsible breeding and protect animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) regulations are minimal and most would consider their standards inhumane and unacceptable.They require dogs to be provided with food, water and shelter and what constitutes an adequate level of care is left to the breeders discretion. Approximately 4 million puppies from puppy mills are produced each year which is around the same number of shelter dogs being euthanized. The biggest reason puppy mills still exist, despite being inhumane and unethical is because of supply and demand. Continuous demand generates continuous supply. There are many rescues groups fighting for the ban of puppy mills. Many puppy mills have been shut down largely due to the efforts of rescue groups who have been able to provide proof of cruelty and abuse, however we can contribute to their efforts by refusing to buy animals from pet stores.
What Is Allowed Under The Animal Welfare Act...
- There is no limit to the number of dogs on the premises. A puppy mill could have hundreds or thousands of dogs.
- There is no requirement on the number of staff that must be available to care for the dogs.
- Dogs may be kept in stacked cages.
- Mesh or wire flooring is allowed.
- Dogs may be forced to relieve themselves in their cages.
- Dogs may be confined in spaces only six inches larger than their bodies, not including the tail.
- A dog may be caged 24 hours a day for his or her entire life, only removed from the cage to be bred.
- There is no exercise requirement if dogs are housed with other dogs and certain minimal size requirements are met for the dog’s enclosure.
- Human interaction is not required.
- Breeding females at the first heat cycle and every heat cycle is permissible.
- Unwanted animals may be killed or auctioned off.
- Many of the AWA’s requirements are vague. The AWA leaves it up to the mill owners to determine what is “adequate”.
I fully endorse the rescue of animals, however, there are reputable and responsible breeders who sell purebred puppies. Responsible breeders will be open to you visiting their breeding operation as well as meeting the puppy’s mom because they have nothing to hide. They take pride in providing individuals with healthy puppies and genuinely care for the health and wellbeing of their animals. There are as many bad breeders as there are good, so if you are looking to buy a puppy from a breeder make sure you are able to tell the difference!
Another advantage of adopting a pet versus buying one is that by rescuing, not only do you save the adopted pet’s life, but you also save the life of another helpless animal because there’s more space available. Therefore, not only are you saving the lives of animals, but you are also fighting against animal cruelty by not supporting puppy mills. Many people are unaware that there are puppies as well as purebreds that are in need of adoption. While you may not find them in your local shelter, there are several rescue groups online that are dedicated to rescuing a specific breed. There are rescue animals that require extra tender loving care due to poor socialization, abandonment or abuse however there are more shelter animals that do not have any behavior issues. As someone who worked and volunteered in one of the largest rescues in North America, you would be surprised by how many well tempered animals are surrendered because…
- The family is moving to an apartment that does not allow pets
- The family is having a baby and does not want the extra responsibility of continuing to care for their pet
- Their owner is sick or old and can no longer provide proper care
- The family no longer wants the pet once they become an adult
- The pet gets sick and the family can not afford or doesn’t want to pay for treatment or doesn’t have time to care for their pets illness
- The owner dies and they either don’t have other family to continue to care for their pet or the family does not want to care for their pet
Another advantage to adopting one of these pets is that they are often already trained, socialized, house broken and adapted to living in a house. I adopted Emma as a puppy after adopting Popo as an adult and I can tell you that I will never be adopting a puppy again. I’m glad I experienced what adopting and caring for a puppy was like, but it’s personally not something I would want to do again. Firstly, puppies are adopted much more easily than adults. Secondly, the time, effort and cost that goes into caring for a puppy is far greater. I had a difficult time potty training Emma. It took about 6 months of potty training before she was fully housebroken. Puppies are understandably destructive during the process of learning about their environment, not to mention teething. They are like babies, well they are babies so they put EVERYTHING in their mouth! I had to “puppy proof” the house and even then she still managed to find things to chew that shouldn’t be chewed.
I have nothing against adopting a puppy. Puppies are awesome! Adopting Emma at 3.5 months old helped me grow as a person and I have never had second thoughts. The reason why I have mentioned my experience with Emma is not to discourage you in any way from adopting a puppy, instead I want to provide you with realistic expectations. The other reason I mention this is because adopting a dog that is already trained and house broken may be the best fit for someone who works long hours, has a hectic schedule or does not want to puppy proof their house. With this being said, there’s no guarantee that an adult dog will not have accidents in the house, destroy furniture or transition quickly and easily into your home. However, most rescue groups or shelters work closely with the animals and observe and evaluate their behavior. Therefore, they are more equipped to provide recommendations and help you find a pet that best matches your lifestyle.
Lastly I’ll mention that I feel that animals who have spent quite some time in a shelter setting or who have a history of abuse are consciously aware of that fact that you have saved their life. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but when they arrive home it’s got to feel like paradise in comparison to sleeping alone on a cold cement floor and spending most of their time in a cage. They are forever grateful and will repay you through a lifetime of unconditional love, affection and slobbery kisses.
Choosing Where to Adopt From
There are certain things to consider when choosing where you want to adopt your pet. There are four categories of animal shelters: municipal shelters, not for profit organizations, not for profit organizations with government contracts and rescues/sanctuaries. (The following information is specific to the United States.)
Municipal shelters can be run by any branch of a government from the police department to the local health authority. They must abide by animal control policies established by the government thus they are accountable to the local elected officials. They are tasked with helping animals in abusive situations but also perform animal control duties to protect humans from dangers posed by animals. They are funded by tax dollars and generally are not allowed to fundraise. They have to follow strict budgets and oftentimes experience budget cuts which hinders their operation. Municipal shelters are legally required to take in all stray animals regardless of temperament, medical conditions, age, etc.
Private organizations (ex. ASPCA, The Humane Society of United States, North Shore Animal League, etc.) are run by an Executive Director that reports to a board of directors. These organizations are allowed to establish their own policies and procedures, mission and values. They typically have an IRS 501(c)(3) not for profit designation and rely on donations from the public. They might have SPCA or humane society in their name but may have no affiliation with the government but they are legally required to use donations in accordance with their IRS 501(c)(3) not for profit designation. However, these organizations want to build a good rapport with the public because they rely on donations to operate.
Private organizations with municipal contracts are accountable to the government and their board of directors, however, they can fundraise and establish their own mission, values and policies and procedures etc.
Rescue Groups/Sanctuaries (ex. Best Friends, animal foundations) have RS 501(c)(3) not for profit designation. There are many different kinds of rescues with varying missions and services.
Below are few examples:
- Provide medical care to injured animals (ex: The Las Vegas Valley Humane Society)
- Transport animals to shelters/rescues/sanctuaries/foster homes
- A one person operation in their private home
- A large organization with many volunteers
- Network of foster homes
- Sanctuary for animals with special needs/unadoptable animals
Most municipal shelters are open admission, which means they will take in any animal whether it’s ill, elderly, aggressive, etc. Private organizations are often limited admission meaning that they only take in animals that the organization feels they are able to rehome/rehabilitate. Private organizations are usually no kill, however, this does not mean that they never euthanize an animal. Sometimes they send animals who may never be adopted or have debilitating health conditions to open admission shelters to be euthanized.
Most states do not have laws for operating standards of shelters. There are no federal mandated standards of practice. RS 501(c)(3) not for profit designation does not mean the organization operates humanely. It is solely a classification for tax purposes. Allowing this freedom comes with benefits and challenges. Local shelter organizations are free to operate in any way they choose, which may lead to innovative practices and procedures. However, lack of oversight means it is difficult to control organizations that require improvements. While a 501(c)(3) defines taxability, not reputability, there’s something that can be said for those who go out of their way to gather required documents, fill out the forms, establish a board of directors and pay the processing fee.
Be on the lookout for those selling puppies on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram who claim to be a rescue. First of all, selling animals on social media platforms goes against their community guidelines and regulations. If you see someone selling an animal on Facebook or Instagram, I recommend reporting them for violating the platforms terms and conditions. Make sure when looking at rescue groups online that they have a website +/- social media platforms. There are several people who falsely claim to be rescues on social media platforms. In addition, animal rescues at the bare minimum require you to fill out an adoption form and will typically require references. At the North Shore Animal League, our adoption application was several pages long and required references. We would call all references to make sure the information stated on the application closely resembled the questions we asked the references. Additionally, if applicable we would call the Landlord to confirm that the tenants were allowed to have an animal and if there were weight restrictions in place. Every rescue that I have volunteered at clearly states that if for some reason you can’t continue to care for the animal anymore that you are required to bring them back to the rescue. You are also required to sign a terms and conditions form so that they have proof you are aware of them and so that they can legally confiscate the animal from you if you break any part of the agreement. Therefore, I would refrain from adopting an animal from a rescue that does not require you to fill out an adoption application and provide references as they may be falsely claiming to be a rescue. I’d say that most individuals in rescue truly care about the health and safety of their animals. Also, for larger organizations such as Best Friends and the Animal Foundation, their tax returns are available online and you can see what they spend their donations on.
Resource: Charity Watch
Adoption Application For Little Rock Animal Village
For most of my life, I thought adopting from a non-kill animal shelter or rescue was the best option. However after spending a lot of time researching where to adopt from, the next time I’m looking to adopt I will check out the local municipal shelter first. The reason for this is because municipal shelters are required to take in all stray animals, which means there’s a time limit on their life because of limited space while animals at non kill shelters will remain there until adoption. Go to your local shelter and see if there’s an animal there that you are interested in. If not, I would then recommend going to a large private organization that is reputable, such as the Animal Foundation or Best Friends Animal Society. If you do not find an animal you are interested in adopting from either of these places, I would recommend looking online at rescues. When choosing an organization to adopt your future pet, be sure to consider the above. Do your research and read reviews online to find a reputable shelter. There is no right or wrong place to adopt a pet because adopting is saving a life. However, you don’t want to support an organization that does not have the best interests of the animals at heart, which is why it’s important to do your research.
Consider the following questions when you want to support a shelter financially or by adopting an animal:
- Are they allowing you to view their facilities?
- Does the organization have something to hide?
- Are they open and honest about their policies and procedures?
- Do they post stories about animals they have rescued?
- Is the shelter a well known reputable organization?
Considerations To Make When Picking Out A Pet
There are many considerations to make before adopting an animal and when determining which species or breed to adopt. I’m going to talk about what important considerations need to be made before bringing a pet home and considerations regarding choosing species and breed. Since I talked about cost first when explaining the benefits of adopting versus buying from a pet store, let’s start there.
Owning a pet is expensive! The American Kennel Association estimates that the average lifetime cost of a dog ranges from $14,480 to $15,782 while Forbes estimates it to be $17,650 to $93,520. Forbes high end estimate accounts collars, leashes, crates, training, medications and supplements, dog walkers and emergency vet fees on top of routine vet visits (wellness examination, vaccines, lab tests, dental care), grooming, food, toys and treats. Since medical fees make up a large chunk of the average lifetime cost of dog ownership, I would recommend looking into pet insurance options. Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing issues, so it’s best to purchase a plan shortly after adoption. We rarely stop and think about the possibility of an emergency situation happening to us in the future, but accidents happen all the time. From hit by cars, to dog fights, broken limbs, etc. In those difficult situations when seemingly unfair decisions have to be made, pet insurance can be the difference between life or death. I mention this because it’s important to be aware of the cost of owning a pet before making the decision to get one.
Another consideration to make BEFORE getting a dog or cat is that they are a long term commitment. Depending on the breed, the lifespan of a dog ranges from 8 and16 years and the average lifespan of a cat is around 15 years. It’s unfair to get a dog or cat if you knowingly are unable to make that long term commitment to them. I’m aware that we are unable to see into the future and therefore are unable to predict whether certain circumstances will arise that will challenge that commitment, but do not bring a dog or cat home if you have any present doubts.
In regards to adopting, it’s important to remember that most shelter animals are not certified purebred meaning that the description of the breed of dog or cat is not always accurate, especially with puppies. If you are set on adopting a purebred dog, I recommended looking at rescues online opposed to going to your local shelter. Purebred dogs are more likely to display the general behaviors and tendencies associated with the breed, but keep in mind that all animals are unique and that’s what makes them so special.
The most important considerations to make when choosing a pet that would best fit with your lifestyle include…
Members Of Your Household, Flexibility and Schedule
When deciding what type or breed of animal to adopt, it’s important to think about which would be best for all members of the household. If you are someone in college who has several roommates and new people frequently come over, it would be best to adopt an animal that is friendly with strangers. If you are someone with young children, it would be best to adopt a gentle natured dog who has a high level of tolerance, such as retrievers, setters or pointers. If it’s just you and your partner and you live an active lifestyle then shepherds or collies would be a great choice. Someone who works long hours and travels frequently, may decide a cat is best suited to their lifestyle because they don’t require as much attention and are easier for someone to care for while out of town. Research the different breeds. Learn about their physical characteristics, personality traits and tendencies.
Animals In The Household
In addition, consider the other animals in the household and what species, breed and gender would your pets get along with best. Is your pet dog-friendly? Cat-friendly? Scared of big dogs? Very playful? Have a high prey drive? Old/young?, etc. These are all questions to ask yourself. If you have a senior dog that sleeps a lot then you may not want to get a dog with a lot of energy or if you have a young dog that loves to play you may not want to get an older dog that won’t be able to keep up their energy level. If you have a dominant dog at home, the best bet would be to get a younger submissive dog or if you have a cat at home, it may be a good idea to get a dog that either has a history of living with cats or has a low prey drive.
Living Situation, Physical Capabilities, Pet Allergies
Other considerations to make include your living situation. Do you live in an apartment, a house? Do you live in the city or countryside? Do you have a backyard? Is it big or small, fenced or not fenced? If looking for a pet for apartment living, cats are a good choice or a smaller dog breed without high exercise requirements that does not excessively bark, such as a French bulldog. If you live in the countryside with a lot of land, a collie or another breed with a lot of energy that loves to run around would be a good match. Think about the size of the animal and the size of your home. Think about the breeds exercise requirements and tendency to bark. What are your physical capabilities? Will you be able to keep up with a dog with demanding exercise requirements? Will you be able to walk an 80+ dog that pulls on the leash when it sees another dog? Do you have allergies? Does anyone else in your household have allergies? Or will excessive shedding bother you? If so, you’ll want to adopt a hypoallergenic dog, like a poodle or maltese. Are you looking for a task-oriented dog or a dog with high trainability? If so, a Poodle, Bernese Mountain dog, Border Collie or German Shepherd are good choices of breeds.
Grooming Requirements and Medical Needs
Also think about the grooming needs of the breed. Do they require frequent haircuts, brushing or bathing? Are you someone who will or wants to take the time to groom their pet or have to take them to the groomers on a regular basis? Another important consideration to make is whether or not the pet has lifelong medical needs, such as diabetes or glaucoma and if you will be able to meet those needs. Will you be fine going to the veterinary clinic for frequent checkups? Will you be able or willing to administer daily insulin injections, eye drops or administer oral medications everyday for the rest of the pet’s life?
I can’t tell you exactly what species or breed would be best suited to your lifestyle, but I hope by asking yourself these kinds of questions that they will prompt you in the right direction or get you starting to think about what breed you may be interested in or best suited to your lifestyle. Honestly, after making the decision to get an animal it’s not wrong to go to the shelter, meet the animals and see which one is a good fit. Like I said, all animals are different and you may go to the shelter and immediately fall in love with a dog that you don’t even know what breed it is. That’s what happened to me. I had no idea what breed I wanted, in fact it didn’t matter much to me. All I knew was that I wanted a puppy and to be honest, a lot of traits that a dog develops stems from the way it’s treated and whether or not it has received proper training and socialization. When looking at the puppies, I was torn between a male black lab mix and a female hound mix. I ended up choosing the hound mix because I couldn’t stop thinking about her big floppy ears, but at the end of the day I honestly believe I would have been happy with either.
The Adoption Process
It is important to understand the adoption process before you begin your adoption journey. After considering the things mentioned above, you can now begin to look for your future furry companion.
The adoption process involves the following steps:
- Finding an animal you are interested in adopting
- Filling in an adoption application/questionnaire
- An adoption interview/ meet and greet
- Finalizing the adoption
Some shelters may also require background checks and home visits. Each shelter has a slightly different adoption process so I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the process at the shelter or rescue you plan to adopt from. Shelters run by the government have different processes from private nonprofit groups and rescues. Rescue groups are more likely to do home checks than your local animal shelter.
The following describes each step of the process in more detail...
Find a furry companion that you may be interested in. Look online at adoption websites. Many have biographies and pictures of animals that are currently in the shelter or at a foster home. Some animals may not be ready to be adopted, but their adoption status is usually stated online. Regarding puppies, keep in mind that they get adopted quickly and oftentimes they have already been adopted before the website is updated. Take a trip to your local shelters to see the animals in person and whether or not there’s an animal that you feel would fit with your lifestyle. Ask shelter and rescue employees questions about the animals you are interested in.
Once you have found a pet that you are interested in, fill in an adoption questionnaire/application. The shelter will ask questions about your family situation, your hobbies and interests, lifestyle, etc. to determine if the animal is a good match. Remember it is important to be 100% truthful on your application. The shelter has you and your future pet’s best interests at heart. Do not state that you have more time to dedicate to your pet than you actually do or that you have a large backyard when you don’t. The shelter doesn’t want to match the wrong pet with your lifestyle. The shelter will work hard to find a pet best suited to your life. Also, a lot of shelters do background checks so if you lie you may not be able to adopt the pet or one in the future. Most shelters and rescues require at least two references, so you may want to think of who those will be prior to filling out an adoption application.
The next step in the process is to contact the shelter to set up an appointment for an interview. It’s normal to feel nervous before the interview. You want to take it seriously, but be honest and true to yourself and your values. At this time, they may go over any special needs the animal has such as diet, exercise, training and medical issues. Make sure to listen and think about whether you will be able to fulfill those needs. Don’t feel pressured to adopt an animal that you feel is above the level of care you want to or are able to provide.
The next step involves meeting the animal and evaluating the interaction. It is important to bring all members of your family, +/- other household pets. Check with the shelter to see if they want you to or you are able to bring your other pets with you to the meeting. The shelter will be able to evaluate whether or not the animal is a good match for your family and/or other pets.
If you and the shelter decide that the animal is well suited to you and your lifestyle, they will move forward with finalizing the adoption. The average adoption cost ranges between $20 – $500 depending on size and age. After the adoption is finalized, you will be able to take home your new furry companion. The shelter will provide you with additional information (dietary needs, medical needs, prescription medications, vaccines, spay and neutering etc.) pertaining to your pet that you both most likely had already briefly discussed. At this time, they will go over the directions of medications, such as dewormers or antibiotics.
What You Should Know Before Bringing Home a New Dog
After getting the low-down on pet adoption, you are now ready to prepare your home for the arrival of your new best friend! Friend and fellow registered veterinary technician, Nikki, wrote an informative article on this topic titled “What You Should Know Before Bringing Home a New Dog.”
The article covers…
- setting up a safe space
- time management & expectations
- environmental enrichment & training
- assessing pet health
- medical records and other important documents
- vaccines, preventatives and supplements
- spay and neuter status
- finding a veterinarian and other pet care service providers